As these blogposts circle through a variety of topics, they explore limits. This philosophy of living does not allow its religious core to be upstaged by getting entangled in social, economic, and political controversies; the comments on such topics are therefore few and quite general. In commenting on world politics, this paper from 2004 represents as far as I’m willing to go.
Some of us still cherish the political idea of a new world order, a philosophic concept universal humanity, and a religion of humankind as the family of God. These political, philosophic, and religious ideals are usually pursued independently; but they came together in a course I taught in the Fall of 2003 in which the central debate was between Kantian cosmopolitanism and Hegelian nationalism.
I. Augustine: Citizenship in the City of God informs citizenship in the City of Man
The main theme that I take from Augustine is that the believer has a dual citizenship, being a citizen of the City of God and of a particular city of man. The perspective to be gained as a member of the City of God illumines the problems of imperialistic extremes in the city of man. What contribution may we extract from Augustine for this central debate? Augustine is not usually thought of as an advocate for diversity and multiculturalism, but consider the evidence we noticed by reading him with this question in mind.
Living as a North African under the political sway of the imperial city of Rome, Augustine could hardly be a nationalist. In The City of God, Book XIX, he enumerates the “circles of human society”: first, the home; second, the city; and, third, the world (XIX, 7, 683). The nation does not appear on the list. Moreover, given the link between nation and language, it is the more striking to see him write that the heavenly city
calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adapts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced (XIX, 17, 696).
Indeed, Augustine decries the slaughter through which the imperial city has “endeavoured to impose on subject nations not only her yoke, but her language,” and he accepts just wars with regret, as he wants to be “delivered from all wars” (XIX, 7, 683).
For Augustine, peace in this world comes only when there is proper order among the superior and subordinate parts or members (XIX, 13, 690); those who rule are the ones “who care for the rest” (XIX, 14, 693). Members are subject to one head (12, 687), but this subjection should not be carried to extremes. In the original creation there was to be no dominion of human beings over one another; “slavery is the result of sin” (XIX, 15, 193). Given the options of which we could expect him to be aware, it is not surprising that Augustine does not toy with the Platonic notion of founding a purified republic; nor does he propose working for fundamental social and political change. Instead, he celebrates membership in the City of God. Thus his soul flourishes in the present and is filled with hope for the eternal future, where “the duty of ruling men [will be] no longer necessary.” It is God who administers “the peace of the universe” (XIX, 16 695).
II. Kant: Cosmopolitan humanity is the goal of history
Writing in an age of warfare between England and France contesting for colonies and the sway of empire, Immanuel Kant’s rejection of nationalism was based on his observation of the instability of international relations when nations recognize no higher interests than their own and no higher sovereignty than themselves. Kant saw an analogy between the international political situation and the condition of anarchy that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes called the state of nature. When civil society breaks down, individuals are on their own; everyone has the right to use any weapons whatsoever in self-defense; no one can count on institutions within a framework of law to enforce contracts; under such conditions individuals cannot flourish; in Hobbes’s unforgettable phrase, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The misery of anarchy is resolved, on this view, by an agreement to recognize a sovereign with the power to establish and maintain civil society.
Kant’s early anthropological writings noted significant national, cultural, and racial differences, but these view did not prevent him later from advancing a vision of a post-nationalistic world order based on at least the following factors:
1. A robust affirmation of the infinite dignity of the humanity in each person as capable of rational, moral self-governance.
2. Sensitivity to the miseries of war.
3. A realistic estimate of the prospects for enduring peace under a world order dominated simply by a plurality of sovereign nation states.
4. An extension of the Hobbesian logic of political progress.
In 1784, when Kant wrote “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent,” he saw Europe advanced in material culture but lacking in moral culture; he saw nations distorting their budgets by using deficit financing to boost military expenditures; he saw that one nation’s advanced preparations for war endangered other nations; he saw that peace was unstable; and he judged that the miseries of war could only be ended by the nations taking a step analogous to the one Hobbes had described. On the international level that meant a step to establish a world government that could effectively outlaw war. Although Kant was not the only thinker to propose this solution, his ideas were an important part of the history behind two twentieth century attempts to solve the problem of war. After the horrors of WW I, the nations formed the League of Nations, an organization that remained vulnerable to the very forces of nationalism that it was trying to overcome. After the greater horrors of WW II, the United Nations was formed, an organization to which many leaders around the world have recently been appealing.
III. Hegel: Abstract moral idealism does not limit the right of sovereign nations
The ideal of a cosmopolitan political order was criticized by Hegel in his 1821 book, Elements of the Philosophy of Right. For Hegel, national sovereignty is absolute, and war continues to be necessary in the modern world. Since each nation state is autonomous, the notion of international law remains a mere “ought,” contingent upon the will of the parties involved (#330); and Kant’s proposed League of Nations rests on a contingent assumption that some religious or moral or other ground will motivate states to participate. Persistent disputes may only be settled by war (and there is no criterion or basis on which to measure at what point the actual or threatened injury to a nation’s welfare provides a just cause for war) (##334-36). Civilized nations may treat less-developed nations as barbarians, treating their unequal rights as a mere formality (#351). The state should not be subordinated to abstract moral notions. (#337 Remark).
Hegel’s dominant thesis in the philosophy of history is that, despite the seeming chaos of the history in the rise and fall and clash of civilizations and modern nation states, there is an intelligible thread working through it all. Human mind continues to strive to realize universal understanding. There is a purpose working itself out (#342). In each stage of the development of freedom, one nation carries the baton and has its hour of glory, after which it is unceremoniously plucked from center stage. After its moment of world-historical greatness, its service to the world, the nation can decline or wander about without direction, or do its best to keep up with the nation where the forefront of progress is happening (remark to #347). The past has seen the rise of Oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic civilizations; and Hegel anticipated that the torch of progress would pass from Europe to North America.
Lest we exaggerate Hegel’s differences with Kant, it is worth recalling that for Hegel the modern nation is distinguished by according liberty to all citizens. While the citizen can only fully actualize his freedom as a member of the state, so also the state can only actualize itself through the minds and actions of free citizens. Moreover, Hegel celebrates the intellectual and spiritual worth of the individual. Here is a paragraph from the 1830 Philosophy of Mind:
No Idea is so generally recognized as indefinite, ambiguous, and open to the greatest misconceptions (to which therefore it actually falls a victim) as the idea of Liberty . . . . Remembering that free mind is actual mind, we can see how misconceptions about it are of tremendous consequence in practice. . . . It was through Christianity that this Idea came into the world. According to Christianity, the individual as such has an infinite value as the object and aim of divine love, destined as mind to live in absolute relationship with God himself, and have God’s mind dwelling in him: i.e. man is implicitly destined to supreme freedom. If in religion as such, man is aware of this relationship to the absolute mind as his true being, he has also, even when he steps into the sphere of secular existence, the divine mind present with him, as the substance of the state, of the family, etc. These institutions are due to the guidance of that spirit, and are constituted after its measure; whilst by their existence the moral temper comes to be indwelling in the individual, so that in this sphere of particular existence, of present sensation and volition, he is actually free. [Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, #482, Addition, tr. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 239-40.]
In his textbook on right, Hegel had both celebrated and explicitly qualified this affirmation:
It is part of education, of thinking as consciousness of the individual [des Einzelnen] in the form of universality, that I am apprehended as a universal person, in which [respect] all are identical. A human being counts as such because he is a human being, not because he is a Jew, Catholic, Protestant, German, Italian, etc. This consciousness, which is the aim of thought, is of infinite importance, and it is inadequate only if it adopts a fixed position—for example, as cosmopolitanism—in opposition to the concrete life of the state. [EPR, #209, Zus.]
Thus Hegel affirms the intellectual and spiritual teaching of the infinite value of the individual human being without sharing the cosmopolitan political vision that Kant had developed partly on that foundation.
IV. Samuel P. Huntington: Civilizational clashes are largely motivated by religious identities, resistant to change.
Except for Hegel’s emphasis on nations as agents on the world stage, something akin to Hegel’s geopolitical position was advanced in an influential 1993 article in the magazine Foreign Affairs, written by Samuel P. Huntington and titled, “The Clash of Civilizations?” For Huntington, deep civilizational differences underlie the activities of nation states. When civilizations clash, the conflicts are especially intractable because of the deep-rooted convictions involved. Huntington lists the following major civilizations as playing a role in the foreseeable future: “Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization” (Section III, par.1; p. 3).
Huntington lists religion as the most important factor in differentiating civilizations from one another (III.3, 3). Religion gains in importance today since other factors in people’s subjective sense of identity are in flux.
The processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist.” Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. . . . The revival of religion . . . provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations. (III.5, p. 4)
Huntington has little trouble illustrating his thesis with violent conflicts around the world. On the whole, the overall clash is between the West and the rest. What does the clash between Western civilization and other civilizations require? Among other things, Huntington notes the following.
It will . . . require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. [IX.3, Conclusion par. 20]
Moving beyond what Huntington says, it seems to me, religion can play two roles in civilizational clashes. One role is clashing and polarizing, circling the wagons and launching attacks, physical or verbal, spoken or unspoken. The other role is peacemaking and reminding us of our kinship with one another and our unity in the worship of God.
A question comes today to those of us who appreciate the many-sidedness of truth and crave to harmonize views in tension by articulating the truth in each. Can Western hegemonic actions play any role in leading to a cosmopolitan world order? This question lies beyond my competence as a religious philosopher. I observe that the United States is sometimes called upon for leadership (think of Elie Wiesel calling on President Clinton to take action when the Serbians set up concentration camps), and I also observe the remarkably broad spectrum of world leaders who have been turning to the United Nations recently as an alternative to unilateral action by the United States.
We should be careful in using the term, “clash of civilizations,” since one meaning of the term, “civilization,” is normative, referring to great cultural achievements. Nevertheless, there is certainly some civilizational clash going on.
There is also a question about how far Huntington’s analysis needs qualification by taking note of broader, unifying forces. Inherent in every civilization are visions of universal humanity. Insofar as religions identify with a particular civilization, they do indeed lend themselves to an “us”-versus-“them” orientation. But the religion of the spirit sees further; and if there are spiritual forces entering into the fray on the side of humanity, the prospects may be brighter than our journalists and scholars suspect.
It has at times been regarded as an embarrassment that Kant’s proposal of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man drew on Stoicism as much as on a philosophic interpretation of the message of Jesus. But ancient Greek philosophy is part of the common heritage in the religious philosophies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, particularly as regards their interpretation of God’s creation of humankind. The union of scientific, philosophical, and spiritual support for the concept of the universal family should prove to be a powerful force that transcends civilizations. Scientific ecological awareness transcends civilizations. Philosophic discussion crosses civilizational boundaries.
My proposal is that religion has a role to play alongside the evolution of political wisdom. The more that religionists practice intelligent worship of God and wholehearted love of the neighbor, and the more that religious leaders emphasize what we have in common more than our differences, the greater will be the hope for a planetary spiritual renaissance. One day the clash of civilizations will lose its violence. We can learn to identify with another human being more deeply as a child of God than as a fellow member of our civilization or religion. Best wishes to each of you for success in accomplishing your role in the drama.
In Jeffrey Wattles, ed., The Ohio Academy of Religion Scholarly Papers 2004, 37-44. Delaware, Ohio: Ohio Wesleyan University: April 2, 2005.